The Terrorist Threats Discussed at the UK’s National Security Summit: How Safe Are We?

Neil Basu

At the UK’s Nation security Summit held in London on the 9th October 2018 the head of national counter-terrorism policing, Neil Basu, warned that one for the greatest terror threats in the UK is by its own citizens who have been radicalised by extremists, in particular Islamists, who are frustrated or aspire to travel abroad to fight with the Islamic State (IS).

London Bridge & Borough Market Attack

There is credence in Basu’s observations as seen in the recent attacks prevented attacks in the UK. For example the London Bridge/Borough Market attack in June 2017 to of the attackers, Khuram Butt and Youssef Zaghba were prevented by authorities from leaving Europe to join IS in Syria/Iraq. In addition to this, another threat is posed by individuals who did fight with IS in Syria/Iraq who have returned to their home state as they will be more experienced in the use of firearms and explosives, as well as potentially in chemical weapons that were used by IS in Syria/Iraq. This threat is not just applicable to the UK, but to states in Europe, North America and other states such as the Philippines where returning fighters are now fighting in the south of the country. This is a global problem.

In relation to terrorists’ use of chemical and biological weapons, Neil Basu correctly states the likes of chlorine and mustard gas was used in Syria/Iraq and terrorists do want to adapt these weapons for use in domestic terrorist attacks. Fortunately, what is problematic for terrorists wanting to use such weaponry is having the facilities for storage and maintaining the chemicals as they have to be stored under controlled conditions. When IS held land in their self-proclaimed caliphate this was possible, but in domestic circumstances where without laboratories it is more difficult. As such, the type of attacks being planned will be low-level attacks we have unfortunately witnessed in Europe with the use of vehicles and sharply bladed instruments such as knives, which we have witnessed still have a devastating effect.

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There is also the possibility of terrorists using firearms and improvised explosive devices (IED). In relation to the latter this was seen in the Parsons Green attack in September 2017 and in Barcelona, August 2017, where the former failed to detonate and in the latter the explosives were not handled correctly resulting in the terrorists blowing themselves up in their home. To handle explosives requires a degree of knowledge and experience, which clearly many domestic terrorists do not possess. One cannot be complacent over this as the threat of the use of IED’s is still real. This could come from returning IS fighters and in the case of the UK, current paramilitaries in the North of Ireland from the republican New IRA to loyalist’s groups such as the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster freedom Fighters have members who have experience in the use of IED’s from the 1968-1998 Irish Troubles.

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One must not forget that the terrorist threat does not solely emanate from Islamist inspired terrorism, there is also the threat from far-right groups too, and in the UK from paramilitaries in the North of Ireland. The UK is still the only state to proscribe far-right groups as terrorist organisations and to date these groups have been inspired by the national socialist narrative (National Action, Scottish Dawn and NS 131). Other far-right groups are also being monitored by UK counter-terrorism police and the security services such as Resistance System Network. Again, the terrorist threat far-right groups pose is not unique to the UK, it is prevalent throughout Europe, North America and Australia.

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In relation to the UK republican groups in the North of Ireland have been using the impasse regarding the Irish border in the Brexit negotiations to influence an increase in paramilitary activity, in particular the New IRA.

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Due to the diversity of terrorist threats, the number of groups and individuals being monitored and the increasing pressure counter-terrorism police and the security services have in keeping us safe is enormous. There are two areas that can help alleviate their workload so as to enable them to focus on the groups and individuals that pose a real threat to our security. First is to allocate more resources from the public and private sectors as well as communities to the Prevent strategy. A pre-criminal strategy, Prevent is aimed at helping individuals who are vulnerable to being drawn into terrorist activity. Secondly, we can all play our part by being more vigilant in reporting any activity we see as suspicious. Initiatives in the UK like Action Counters Terrorism (ACT) and the British transport Police’s ‘See it, Say it, Sort it’ are there to help us report anything we suspect is likely to be linked to terrorism and the police will deal with any reports sensitively.

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I discuss this in more details in my radio interview with Sputnik Radio and many of these themes are covered in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ that was published in March 2018

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Does the UK need to introduce more anti-terrorism powers to its police and security services?

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On the 22nd April a 120 page draft report of the UK Government’s new terror strategy was passed onto journalists at the Sunday Times that in essence contains proposed amendments to the UK’s anti-terrorism policy CONTEST and a proposed counter-terrorism Bill.

 

In relation to the Bill, the proposals revealed include:

 

1.       People convicted of terrorism offences receive longer sentences;

2.       Police and security services to be given the power to warn government departments, Scottish and Welsh politicians and local authorities of individuals they consider suspicious, even before they have been placed on the MI5 watch list.

 

Other proposals include:

 

1.       Increased security at sporting events and concerts;

2.       Focus on detecting ‘British jihadi’ trying to get work at airports;

3.       Improve the detections of terrorist activity involving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive material.

 

In relation to the Prevent strand of CONTEST, which is the pre-criminal strategy to help those who are vulnerable to being drawn towards terrorism, the proposals call for more focus on communities where the threat form terrorism and radicalisation is the highest. The report says the existing Prevent strategy has been divisive, with the UK’s Muslim community saying they have been unfairly singled out.

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The potential problems the UK government face in successfully introducing these proposals includes giving the police and security services the power to warn other government departments of individuals they consider suspicious. In May 2017 it was reported that over 3,500 potential terrorists are being monitored. It will be interesting when the details are published how the UK Government is going to support the police and the security services in carrying out this task. It is proposed to increase the number of staff in the security services by 1,900 by 2020. When this was first proposed, this was to help the services deal with their current workload. Since 2010 the austerity cuts on the police has seen the number of officers in England and Wales reduced by 21,000. The policing role that has suffered the most from these cuts is neighbourhood policing (community policing), which is a key role in acting as a conduit between the public and the police, and that includes receiving information and intelligence from the community. While there has been no reduction in counter-terrorism policing, there has not been an increase in its resources either as their workload increases. Although 13 major terrorist attacks were prevented in the UK since March 2017, as seen in the 2017 attacks that were successful, it is difficult to monitor all the intelligence systems, so to meet these proposals there will have to be an increase in police staffing and funding.

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The second issue worth considering is the focusing on communities where the threat of terrorism and radicalisation is highest. Although the report acknowledges the existing Prevent strategy has been divisive, something I have pointed out in the past, this is because when it was introduced, it focused solely on the violent Islamist narrative. Since 2011, the strategy considers all forms of extremism, a message that has not successfully been communicated by the Home Office. Here is the issue regarding this proposal, who are these communities? If the language used over the last few months by the current Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, is taken into consideration it appears the communities she is referring to are the Muslim communities. Figures released by the Home Office in March 2018 reveal that out of the 6,093 referred to prevent over a third of those referrals were as a result of far right concerns. Let us not forget that the UK has witnessed a number of attacks carried out under the influence of the far right narrative that have resulted in murder, including the assassination of a British MP in June 2016 by Thomas Mair (something the Islamists have not carried out). Which communities will be monitored in relation to far right terrorism?

 

UK police and security services already have some of the widest powers under terrorism related legislation among the Western states, so it is questionable if further powers are needed. In relation to Prevent, it does need re-marketing. While not perfect, the strategy does have many successes and is a vital strand of CONTEST that requires as much support as possible both in resources and marketing. I know that the Home Office is looking to introduce a separate Prevent website that is more user friendly and interactive. With all the recent good work done in Prevent, it is important that these proposals do not return to focusing solely on the UK’s Muslim communities thereby making them suspect communities. All forms of extremism are potentially dangerous and the community that should work together is the whole of UK society, not just one or two minority communities.

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I discussed this in more details on my interview with Sputnik Radio, which you can listen to on the link

 

Osborne Convicted of Terrorist Murder: Time for all extreme far right groups like Britain First to be banned?

METROGRAB:Suspected  Finsbury Park attacker is detained by police and members of the public
Photo credit: Nawaf Atiq/ Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/nawaf.atiq

Darren Osborne has been convicted of murder and the attempted murder of nine others when he drove a van into Muslim worshippers at Finsbury Park in June 2017. Osborne received a life sentence where he will serve a minimum of 43 years in prison. While tried for murder, as it usual with terrorist incidents when persons are killed, the political cause (here extreme far right) was a sentencing factor and the trial judge, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb stated that Osborne’s actions was a terrorist attack as he intended to kill.

It is important we recognise the dangers the extreme far right pose to the security and safety of citizens, not just in the UK but globally. Extremism in all its forms from Islamist to extreme far right.

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In the UK, while the UK extreme far right group National Acton was proscribed in December 2016 as a terrorist organisation (that was followed the groups morphed after National Action was proscribed, Scottish Dawn and NS131), there are other extreme far right groups whose extremist message is influencing others towards violence carried out in their name. That violence is invariably targeted towards minorities, that for many far right groups does not just focus on race and religion but sexuality and political views.

Jayda Fransen court case

The group Britain First is a prime example of an extreme far right group the UK government should seriously consider proscribing as a terrorist organisation. Currently its leader, Paul Golding, and its deputy leader Jayda Fransen are on trial for allegedly carrying out religiously aggravated harassment. The pair  targeted a person related to a rape trial. This is not the first occasion Golding and Fransen have been arrested and appeared in court. There are many examples  including in December 2017 Fransen appeared at Belfast Magistrates Court for allegedly using anti-Islamic comments. In December 2016 Golding was jailed for eight weeks for breaching  am injunction prohibiting him from entering mosques in Bedfordshire. In November 2016 Fransen was convicted for religious aggravated harassment, receiving a £2,000 fine.

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While Britain First’s mission statement does not explicitly state it is anti-Islamic, there is a picture of Golding and Fransen with their supporters with a banner saying ‘Time to fight Islamic terror’. The statement says Britain First’s policies are pro-British, loving ‘our people, our heritage and culture’, defending them no matter what odds the group faces, the question is who is ‘our’? The statement is clear the group is anti-foreigner,. anti-asylum seeker and anti-migrant, adding that Christianity, that the group sees as the bedrock and foundation of Britain’s national life, is under ‘ferocious assault, with Christians facing discrimination and persecution.

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It is perhaps time now for the UK government to proscribe Britain First as their narrative does influence others to believe their skewed and warped ideology. The problem of them being free to release anything they want to say is the group can grasp any legitimacy of its narrative, especially when that legitimacy comes from an unexpected source like the US President. In November 2017 US President, Donald Trump retweeted three of Fransen’s tweets that purported to show actions of Muslims , with those actions being shown to be a false depiction of what Fransen was using them for. Fransen jumped on this using it to legitimise Britain First’s narrative claiming that the US President supports them. This incident caused a bitter row between the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May and Donald Trump. Donald Trump has since said he is prepared to apologise for retweeting Britain First’s tweets, claiming that he had no knowledge of what the group stands for.

Although small in membership numbers, groups like Britain First and National Action do inspire others to carry out violent attacks. This is why they should all be proscribed a it gives the security services and the police wider powers and a wider number of offences to deal with the far right. This is seen in the number of arrests there have been on members of National Action, where even in January 2018 six alleged members of National Action were arrested in the UK. In addition to the wider powers being proscribed organisations reduces the platforms from which to spread their damaging and dangerous narrative with which to inspire those less aware of current affairs or special issues from carrying out acts of violence. Anything that does this has to be a positive move.

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It is important counter-narratives are developed and used against all forms of extremism and this is an important strand of Prevent strategies. While Prevent has had its problems in the past, there is no credible alternative to use at the moment and the strategy does work. We should all work towards the goal of helping those who are vulnerable to being drawn towards terrorism by producing an effective counter-narrative and making as hard as possible for any extremist group to get their message out.